The Last Song

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Julie Anne Robinson (debut)
Written by: Nicholas Sparks (debut) and Jeff Van Wie (debut)

Adapting his novel into a screenplay for the first time since his stories began hitting the big screen in 1999 (“Message in a Bottle”), author Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”) quickly loses handle of his newest tearjerker “The Last Song” from the start.

Written specifically for teenage music and TV idol Miley Cyrus (“Hannah Montana: The Movie”), the role proves to be far too much for someone with so little feature film experience to explore. Aside from the unmotivated script and direction, it is Cyrus’s shockingly inept performance that makes “The Last Song” so very dissonant. Facetiously speaking: Those voters from the MTV Movie Awards aren’t going to be knocking on her door for this one.

In “Song,” Cyrus takes a dramatic turn for the worst as Ronnie Miller, an unhappy teenage piano virtuoso who is still hurting from her parents divorce. Sent with her little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home, Ronnie is not about to meet her dad halfway and try to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

Uninterested in playing the piano anymore (she stopped on the day her father left the house; how very symbolic) or following her dream to enroll at Julliard, Ronnie would much rather be a sulking teenager with nothing to live for. Cyrus’s self-pity parade becomes more and more unrealistic with every pouty moment she musters.

When she finally meets the man of her dreams, Sparks’s half-hearted efforts plop into a series of formulaic plot devices and corny montages fit for a Disney TV show. As Ronnie and her summer fling spend more time with one another, unnecessary and underwritten secondary storylines are tossed in without much thought. One includes Ronnie taking an interest in sea turtles. Another has her looking out for a girl she meets who is in a dysfunctional relationship.

Waiting in the wings is Kinnear, who is wasted as a father hoping to reconnect with his daughter. Instead, his character is misplaced until Sparks need a tragic story to fall back on and to complete his relationship melodrama. He does the same in every one of his stories, but in “Song” it feels even more insincere than ever before.

If young girls want nothing more than an unoriginal and extremely silly summer romance, Sparks has spun tween gold. This bland story, however, has been told so many times before and with less giddiness. Most importantly, those same movies are done without Cyrus, who makes fellow songstress Taylor Swift’s laughable performance in “Valentine’s Day” earlier this year look Oscar worthy.

Bolt

November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman
Directed by: Byron Howard (debut) and Chris Williams (debut)
Written by: Chris Williams (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) and Dan Fogelman (“Cars”)

Leave it to Pixar to inject some much-needed imagination into the recent animated efforts of Walt Disney Studios. As the first animated feature entirely under the watchful eye of John Lasseter (chief creative officer of both studios and director of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life”), “Bolt” may not win best-in-show, but he’s definitely a charmer.

In an opening scene shot like a canine version of “The Incredible Hulk” or “Spider-Man,” we meet the titular American White Shepherd, who is the superhero star of his own TV show. Not only can Bolt (John Travolta) run at lightning speed, he can also shoot laser beams from his eyes, lift cars between his teeth, and flatten anything in his path with a startling superbark. Eat your heart out Underdog!

While Bolt honestly believes it is his mission to protect his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the sinister Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and his band of futuristic foot soldiers, the TV show’s director (James Lipton) insists the entire production crew and actors continue to lead Bolt to believe that he really is a superdog. A bit reminiscent of “The Truman Show,” everyone’s in on the intricate scheme and is able to shoot each episode without Bolt’s knowledge by using guerilla-style camerawork and special effects. The initial premise might seem outlandish (especially for a dog who always seems on script), but for argument’s sake, it works.

But when the director decides to change the show’s format because of low ratings and make each episode end in a cliffhanger, Bolt doesn’t understand what’s happening when shooting wraps one day without the usual defeat of his nemesis. Still believing Penny is in trouble, Bolt escapes his trailer on the studio lot and ventures off to save his “person.” But as Buzz Lightyear discovers in “Toy Story,” using superhero powers during real-world scenarios isn’t too encouraging for the psyche when they fail to produce the same results as in the fantasy.

Coming to the realization he might not be a gene-spliced pup after all, Bolt meets Mittens (Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), a stray cat with abandonment issues who helps him learn what it is to be a normal dog by teaching him how to fetch, dig, and stick his head out the window, and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hyperactive fanboy hamster who religiously watches Bolt’s show on the “magic box” and secretly wishes to become his butt-kicking action sidekick.

Apart from the scene-stealing furry rodent who rolls around in a plastic ball for most of the film and says hilarious things like “I’ll snap his neck” or “I’ll get the ladder” with total seriousness, there are plenty more laughs and soft-hearted moments that make Bolt one of the more memorable family-friendly movies of the year. Sure, “WALL-E” will probably scavenger up most of the animation awards, but there’s no shame for other animated films to aim for silver.